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When's The Right Time To Ask About Salary?

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In case you missed it, Canadian food delivery service SkipTheDishes is in the middle of a social media crisis, and it all stems from the way one of their hiring managers answered a question about salary.

It started when job applicant Taylor Byrnes emailed the company the following questions: "How much do you think I'll be getting paid an hour? Benefits will be included, right? Sorry, I just thought I should ask now. Thanks for your time and have a lovely day."

Victoria Karras, a talent acquisition coordinator at SkipTheDishes, responded this way:

SkiptheDishes email response


Byrnes posted a screenshot of this exchange to Twitter, which sparked outrage and the use of a #BoycottSkip hashtag.

SkipTheDishes, you should know, was recently purchased by the U.K.-based Just Eat plc for $110 million. Maybe this shouldn't factor into the equation, but the fact that the company is presumably flush with cash makes it especially difficult to defend their response.

The way they responded, however, does reinforce conventional wisdom about salary questions in the interview process (that you should delay the discussion as long as possible). The traditional reasoning for this was that it gives the wrong impression (that you're only interested in money), and that it pushes the conversation into a negotiation (and you've just blinked first).

According to a Robert Half survey cited by this Payscale post, 31 per cent of managers are comfortable with applicants asking about compensation and benefits in the first interview; 38 per cent say it should wait until interview number two; and nine per cent think it can be discussed during an initial phone interview.

Is this accurate?

"You can get away with a lot of so-called taboo questions if they're delivered in a professional, thoughtful manner."
-- Shawn D'Souza, Workopolis

"It shouldn't be up to the candidate to ask this question at all," says Shawn D'Souza, talent acquisition manager at Workopolis. "If a company is not listing salary on their job posting, it should be discussed during an initial phone interview, before any face-to-face meetings. This lets the company and candidate know if they have the same expectations, and makes sure nobody is wasting their time."

And if the hiring manager does not bring it up?

"A lot of companies have their own questions during the application process, and salary is usually one of them. If they don't bring it up, though, it's valid for an applicant to ask, even during an initial phone discussion. If you're worried about how it might come across, you can wait for the end of the conversation. If it's gone well, and you feel like this is an opportunity you want to continue to explore, it's valid to ask about the salary range, especially if you're currently employed at another company," D'Souza says.

Before you do that, though, D'Souza suggests keeping a few things in mind:

Know your worth

StatsCan, Payscale, and the aforementioned Robert Half are some of the online resources that offer salary information. Use them to understand the salaries offered for similar job titles in your region. Keep in mind, though, that this should be used as a rule of thumb; your skills, education and experience can create exceptions.

"By doing the research, you go into any salary conversation on solid footing. You'll also know right away when a proposed salary range does not measure up," D'Souza says, adding that you need to be both realistic and confident in your abilities.

"You don't want to price yourself out of the opportunity. Name a wide, but realistic, salary range, and then define why you should be in the higher end of that range," he says.

nervous job interview
(Photo: Chris Ryan via Getty Images)

Be professional

No two hiring managers and companies are alike, so if you want to ask about salary early on in the process, be as diplomatic and professional as possible.

"You can get away with a lot of so-called taboo questions if they're delivered in a professional, thoughtful manner. You can also use the circumstances of the interview to your advantage. If you need to take time off work, for example, or if it sounds like the hiring process has a lot of steps, use that to frame the question," D'Souza says.

He suggests using this kind of question:

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but as it's a bit difficult for me to take time off work for an interview; could you give me a sense of the salary range before we move forward?"

Know what's important to you

A good salary is always important, but as the saying goes, money isn't everything. If a job or company sounds and feels like a good fit for you and your career, don't be put off by a lower salary.

"That's not to say you should take a pay cut, but you need to know what's most important to you. Do you want more responsibility? Do you want to take the next step in your career? Do you want to work from home more often? These are all things you should be taking into account when you start the conversation about salary. If the opportunity offers something that would really make you happy, it's sometimes worth making a compromise on salary," D'Souza says.

So, there you have it. Don't be afraid to ask the question. Just make sure you've done your homework (and be on your best behaviour).

See also:

The art of the deal: how to negotiate a starting salary
7 salary negotiation tips from the movies
How to use humour to negotiate a better salary
The average Canadian salaries by industry and region

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